Riding Schilling too far spills Phils from playoff saddle

ON BASEBALL

August 22, 1999|By PETER SCHMUCK | PETER SCHMUCK,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- The upstart Philadelphia Phillies appear to be finished. It was fun while it lasted, but their uplifting wild-card run ran aground at about the same time that pitching ace Curt Schilling went on the disabled list with a sore rotator cuff.

Schilling apparently will be fine. Recent tests showed that his shoulder is not seriously damaged, but he will not be back in time to salvage anything down the stretch.

The injury coincided with the 4-8 run that dropped the Phillies 8 1/2 games off the National League wild-card lead, which raised questions about the wisdom of pitching Schilling so many innings over the past few seasons.

He has been the hardest working pitcher in the major leagues, according to a statistical analysis performed recently by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Schilling has 38 complete games over the past four seasons -- the most in the majors and 14 more than next-best Randy Johnson. He pitched a total of 523 innings on the way to consecutive 300-plus strikeout seasons in 1997 and '98. No one else pitched 500.

"I'll take responsibility," manager Terry Francona told the Inquirer. "I knew he was pitching a lot, but we're walking a fine line. I'm trying to win. I'm trying to keep people healthy. And I'm trying to do everything perfect. But it's hard to be perfect.

"I do know this. If I limit him to six innings all year -- and we have him healthy all year -- he's not going to have the same record and we're not going to have the same record."

That much is obvious by the club's quick collapse in his absence. The Phillies also have had to work around No. 2 starter Paul Byrd, who has been scratched from two of his past three starts with persistent back spasms.

It's tough enough for a medium-payroll club to win with all of its horses. It's all but impossible to stay competitive with your two top starters on the sidelines.

The Phillies had a nice run. They've got a lot to look forward to -- the roster is dotted with exciting young players who figure to be around for a while -- but they aren't going to get there this year.

Armed and dangerous

No wonder the Arizona Diamondbacks are running away with the National League West race. While almost everyone else in baseball is bemoaning the shortage of pitching talent, the D-backs can't find a place for every quality starter on the roster.

Left-hander Brian Anderson went 5-1 in 15 starts during the absence of injured Todd Stottlemyre, including a three-hit shutout in his most recent outing against the Chicago Cubs, but he apparently has made his last start of the 1999 season now that Stottlemyre has made an amazingly quick recovery from a damaged shoulder capsule.

Anderson hasn't been overpowering. His 5.02 ERA over that period is high by any standard, even in this season of inflated offensive numbers. But his return to long relief just illustrates the terrific depth of the Arizona pitching staff.

Consider this: If you go around the 16-team National League, you'll find only 19 other starting pitchers who are as many as four games above .500. There are 15 in the American League, which means the average major-league team has one pitcher with a plus-four won-loss differential, yet Anderson can't hold a place in the tough Diamondbacks' rotation.

Big Unit update

Johnson, Arizona's ace, is closing fast on 300 strikeouts and still is within range of Nolan Ryan's all-time single-season record of 383. He has been averaging 10.5 strikeouts per game and he apparently will get another eight starts, which would leave him just short, but he's capable of exceeding that average and giving the record a run.

Vote of confidence

There are whispers that Chicago Cubs manager Jim Riggleman may take the fall for his team's lackluster performance this year, even though he is less than a year removed from a fairly improbable playoff run.

The Cubs have looked so moribund during their second-half collapse -- winning just five of their first 25 games after the All-Star break -- that an off-season managerial change would not be a huge surprise, but fellow struggling NL Central manager Tony La Russa doesn't think Riggleman has anything to worry about.

"There are times when you get credit and you don't deserve it," La Russa told the Chicago Tribune, "and sometimes you get criticism when you don't deserve it. Jim is universally respected."

If he gets dumped, La Russa said, he won't have to wait very long for the phone to ring.

"It's just like a very high-quality manager just lost his job in Milwaukee," he added. "Someday Phil Garner is going to get a good club and you're going to see him win a lot of games. Jim is a high-quality guy. If circumstances cost him his job, he'll land on his feet."

International incident

It looks like the Cubs and New York Mets will close out the exhibition season and open the regular season in Japan next spring. The Far Eastern overture still is in the planning stages, but it appears to be a done deal.

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